If you are heading to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, you can’t miss visiting the ancient Mayan Ruins of Tulum; they are beautiful and unique. Here is a complete guide to assist you in planning your trip – from how to get there, what to expect, and the best Tulum tours to take.
Tulum, the ancient Mayan-walled city on the stunning Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, has become a must-visit destination for travellers seeking a blend of history and natural beauty.
With well-preserved ruins shrouded in Mayan history and beliefs and perched atop dramatic cliffs overlooking turquoise waters, this heritage site offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich culture of the Mayan civilization.
Situated in the coastal town of Tulum, the walled ruins differ from other Mayan sites, like Chichen Itza, which tend to be nestled deep in the jungle and have no walls around them. This unique feature makes the Tulum ruins one of Mexico’s most visited attractions.
Read on for further information on how to visit this enchanting archaeological site and why the Mayan ruins at Tulum are worth visiting.
Are Tulum Ruins Worth Visiting?
You can’t come to the Yucatan Peninsula and not visit Tulum. The ruins are the biggest attraction in the Quintana Roo area and a must-see.
The ruins tell the story of a civilisation that built incredible temples and pyramids, worshipped astrological beings and sacrificed animals at the high altar to appease their Gods. You can’t get further away from today’s society than that, so yes, Tulum ruins are worth visiting.
Where Are The Ruins of Tulum?
Tulum ruins location is around 2 miles from Tulum city centre on the coast.
The ruins are 140km from Cancun, a little under 2 hour’s drive.
They are 50km from Playa Del Carmen; the drive time is 45 minutes.
Remember that the Riviera Maya’s main road is busy and can encounter traffic problems, so the times are approximate.
Opening Hours For Tulum Ruins
Tulum archaeological site is open daily from 9.00 am – 5.00 pm.
Are The Ruins Free To Enter?
No. You must have a ticket to enter the site; however, you can freely wander around the car park area, where you will find restaurants and souvenir shops.
Beware of the “entertainers” dressed as Mayan high priests who invite you to take photographs with them. Our tour guide warned us that once you have a photo, they will ask you for exorbitant amounts of money for the image and if you refuse, they can get confrontational.
Also, there are people with animals on leads – iguanas and monkeys that visitors can have photos taken with. Please do not endorse this cruelty by taking part.
How to Buy Tulum Ruins Tickets
Tulum Tour tickets can be purchased online. Guided tours usually include visiting the ruins and cenotes with transport included.
I joined one of the Tulum Ruins Tours on a half-day trip from my Riviera Maya hotel resort in Akumal, which combined exploring the Tulum ruins with swimming in cenotes. It was a great way of learning about the Mayan ruins from an expert guide and having free time to swim in the mystical Tulum cenotes, which was a great experience.
If you prefer to travel independently and want to buy a ticket once you arrive at the ruins, do not buy one from the main car park/tourist area, as these ticket touts do not sell genuine tickets.
Only buy from the official ticket booth, which you will find once you have walked away from the main shopping/tour meeting area and arrived at the Tulum ruins entrance. This is a 10 – 15 minute walk from the car park.
The entrance fee is 90 pesos $5 (2023)
Tulum Ruins Facts
All facts were learnt from my Tulum Tour Guide
Tulum Mayan ruins were once a thriving walled city built around the 13th to 15th centuries. The Mayan city was known as Zama (meaning place of the dawning sun), as it was one of the first places in Mexico to see sunrise.
The purpose of the 7-metre thick wall was to allow the elite to live inside, away from the common people who resided in thatched huts outside of the complex.
Everyday life in Tulum was entwined in politics, magical religious rituals, the arts and astronomy.
In the 19th century, following the arrival of explorers, Zama was renamed Tulum (trench or fence in Mayan) due to the sights and smells the explorers experienced.
Being on the coast, the seaport city received and distributed goods to and from central Mexico and Central America, as well as the Pacific and Gulf coasts. Jade and turquoise were its biggest exports.
Another export was the gum-like resin (Chicle) tapped from trees and sold to a certain Mr Wrigley in Chicago, Illinois. The chicle was mixed with mint and sugar to become Wrigley’s spearmint gum!
What Can You See At Tulum?
Once you have entered the archaeological site of Tulum, you will see several stone temples set in a central grassy area. They are in pretty good condition, considering they date back centuries.
If you are booked on a tour, this is where your guide will tell you about the Mayan people, why Tulum was built and what it was used for. There is not much shade here, so be prepared and wear a hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of water!
El Castillo is the focal point in Tulum. This iconic limestone temple perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea is the most recognizable structure in the Tulum archaeological zone. It served as a ceremonial site and a navigational beacon for Mayan seafarers.
The Temple of the Descending God is named after the distinctive figure carved into the roof lintel. It’s a striking example of Mayan architecture with intricate carvings and can be seen on the left of El Castillo.
The Temple of the Frescoes is a small but beautifully decorated building showcasing intricate Mayan murals. The murals depict the Mayan Gods and offer insights into their artistic and religious practices.
The House of Columns was the official palace of the Mayan leaders. It once rose three storeys high. A row of 4 columns can still be seen at the front of the ruins.
The House of Cenote is close to the House of Columns and has a small cenote below it. The ancient Mayans would have used the cenote to get fresh water from the underground river.
Best Place to Take a Photo at Tulum
As you follow the path towards the cliff edge, you will arrive at the viewing platform by El Castillo.
It gets jam-packed by the castle temple, as this is the perfect place for visitors to take photographs. It’s a great place to admire the magnificent views or try and make it down the wooden steps to Tulum Beach.
Tulum has one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean; however, on my visit, the stairs were out of bounds due to the rough seas and the amount of much-documented Mexican sargassum (seaweed) on the beach, so be prepared for this potentially happening on your visit.
It’s a good idea to continue to the left of El Castillo, along the coastal path, to get a photo of the iconic Temple of the Wind God with the palm trees, beach and sea as a backdrop.
Can You Swim At Tulum Beach?
You can swim at Tulum Beach if the surf is calm; otherwise, it’s a no-go for visitors.
The stairs to the beach usually open at 10 a.m. (weather permitting), so pack your costume if you fancy swimming in the shadows of the mystical Tulum temple perched above. The beach closes at 4.30 pm.
Can You Go Inside The Temples?
The ancient temples are in ruins, so there is nothing to see inside them. However, walking around the grounds gives you a great insight into the civilisation that once lived here through information boards and your tour guide (if you have booked a guided tour).
Please note that visitors are no longer allowed to climb up the steps of El Castillo.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
If you are joining a tour and staying in Akumal or Tulum Town, an early morning pick-up time is a great option to avoid the crowds. You can get to Tulum before the coachloads of visitors arrive from Cancun. Of course, the same applies if you are visiting independently.
If you can’t get to Tulum in the morning, wait until near closing at 5 p.m. for a more peaceful visit with fewer people around.
Try to avoid Sundays when Mexican residents get free entry to the ancient ruins, as it gets busy.
These timings also coincide with the weather. Tulum has hardly any shaded areas, and it gets hot during the day, so arriving early or late is advisable. Remember to wear a hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of water!
To reduce plastic waste, invest in a refillable bottle. I love Super Sparrow water bottles because they keep water super chilled throughout the day.
How Long Will I Need At Tulum?
The site is not huge, so allow at least one hour to wander around. If you plan on swimming, then adjust this time accordingly.
If you are a history buff like me, you will have enough time in one day to visit Tulum and Coba ruins, another important Mayan archaeological site. You can find details of the tour here.
Tulum is a magical place, and to walk around the grounds and see the ruins allows you to imagine what it must have been like when this was a thriving Mayan community.
It’s such a pretty spot; if you love taking photographs, there’s lots of great subject matter to capture.
The combination of ancient Mayan architecture and the picturesque setting makes Tulum one of Mexico’s most popular and visually captivating archaeological sites and, in my opinion, a place worth visiting on a trip to the Riviera Maya.
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